(director: Danny Boyle; screenwriter: Frank Cottrell Boyce; cinematographer: Anthony Dod Mantle; editor: Chris Gill; music: John Murphy; cast: Alex Etel (Damian), Lewis Owen McGibbon (Anthony), James Nesbitt (Ronnie), Daisy Donovan (Dorothy), Christopher Fulford (the Poor Man with knit-cap), Pearce Quigley (Community Policeman), Kathryn Pogson (Clare of Assissi), Jane Hogarth (Mum); Runtime: 98; MPAA Rating: PG; producers: Graham Broadbent/Andrew Hauptman/Damian Jones; Fox Searchlight; 2004-UK/USA)
“Sends out icky messages about religious belief, morality and greed.”
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
English maverick filmmaker Danny Boyle (“Trainspotting”/”Shallow Grave”/”28 Days Later”) directs a quiet script by Frank Cottrell Boyce. It’s a children’s fable, set during an extraordinarily sunny Christmas season, that sends out icky messages about religious belief, morality and greed, that in its complexities is directed more to an adult audience. It’s set in the north of England, mixing, at will, reality with fiction.
Soon after the death of his mother, the precocious freckle-faced 7-year-old Damian (Alex Etel) is playing in a cardboard-box playhouse by the railroad tracks of his new suburban house (in an isolated tacky housing development site) and a duffel bag full of money (£229,000) lands in his play area, seemingly falling out of the sky. The loner youngster, who has seriously studied about Catholic saints and has hallucinations about them in the hopes he can make contact through them with his loving bank worker mom (convinced she’s been made a saint), believes this is a gift from God as a reward from mom. He tells his 9-year-old brother Anthony (Lewis Owen McGibbon) about his find, who persuades Damian to keep it from their hard-working middle-class dad Ronnie (James Nesbitt) in order for it not to be taxed. Damian chooses to give the money away to the poor, believing that’s his mission in life, but which proves to be a difficult task. Damian asks as many people as he can if they are poor and is able to distribute some of the wealth to buy pizzas for a grubby group of charity workers, and leaves cash for his Mormon neighbors to load up on electronics and buy a foot mas-sager. Anthony thinks his brother is loony and instead uses the cash to try and buy an expensive apartment, high-tech gadgets and gain status in school by distributing some of the loot to his mates, having more mercenary uses for the sudden windfall. Into the picture enters a threatening stranger in a knit-cap (Christopher Fulford), a thinly sketched villain, who is thought of as poor by Damian. The stranger is a burly thief who menacingly keeps tabs on the innocent Damian in order to get his stolen loot back, but never becomes a real character. Anthony soon discovers the money is from a bank robbery, and this leads the always altruistic Damian to request that the money be returned. An added plot twist centers on Britain switching from the pound to the euro in 12 days (pure fiction), meaning the money will be worthless unless spent or converted without arousing suspicion.
The story stays with the gullible true believer Damian, who is characterized as so cute that he’s soon an annoying moralizing little bore constantly rattling on about conversing with his dreamlike saints. Clueless dad eventually finds out about the loot, and hooks up in a romance with Dorothy (Daisy Donovan)–an enthusiastic charity fund-raiser who goes around to schools to inform about how the euro convergence-exchange works and to collect small change to help out those impoverished in Africa. The conflicted adults must also decide on what’s the right thing to do when faced with a decision to turn over the loot to the police, who only plan on burning the money.
As a children’s tale the light comedy is crowd pleasing, but as adult fare there’s no tension or edge. We are led around by a sob story, a sugary Nativity play and ridiculous fantasy-saint sequences, such as the one about a chain-smoking St. Clare of Assisi (Kathryn Pogson) who converses with Damian in his cardboard-box and tells him she digs being kept busy as the patron saint of television.
Though well-executed (all things considered) and children-friendly, its contrived moralistic aims (the responsible way to handle money is to help others in need) and hastily bargained for pleasing resolution failed to pin me down into accepting this feel-good manipulative comedy at face value.
REVIEWED ON 5/15/2005 GRADE: C+